NEW DEFENSIVE PACKAGE
The Vikings were allowed to end defensive tackle Chris Hovan's consecutive-starts streak when he left Winter Park early on Friday with the flu. Rookie free-agent tackle Spencer Johnson started in Hovan's place, but that wasn't the only surprising package the Vikings employed Sunday. In certain situations, the defensive line was missing both Hovan and Kevin Williams. In their places were Johnson and Steve Martin. There may be a reason for that, evidenced during this game. On one big gainer from the usually immobile quarterback Joey Harrington, Williams and Hovan ran a stunt where both of them took outside rushes. It left a gaping hole in the middle of the line and Harrington gained 8 yards, 1 yard short of his season-high 9-yard gain. He added another 7-yard rush later in the game.
All three of Lance's Johnstone's sacks came on third downs and forced the Lions offense off the field. It looked like they all came with a three-man line, but Vikings coach Mike Tice said it wasn't a three-man line. Rather he called it a "big nickel" package that featured a linebacker picking a place to rush from on the line of scrimmage. That linebacker was usually either Keith Newman or E.J. Henderson. In those situations, Hovan was at left end, Williams in the middle and Johnstone on the right side.
DETROIT'S A RUNNING TEAM
Not since the days of Barry Sanders have the Vikings looked this bad against Detroit's rushing game — at least in the first half. Rookie Kevin Jones, who didn't have a 100-yard game since being drafted in April, got his first against the Vikings — and nearly got it all in the first half when the Vikings tackled poorly. Detroit had 128 rushing yards in the first half, 95 of those coming from Jones. But after the Vikings started tackling better, Jones gained only 5 yards in the second half on four carries and Detroit had only 18 second-half rushing yards.
THAT'S A PUNT
The Vikings have struggled all year in the punting department, witnessed by Darren Bennett's last-ranked punting average. It didn't get any better against Detroit in the first half. He averaged 32.5 yards on two punts, compared to Nick Harris' 41-yard average on two punts.
Bennett did find the ball better on his first punt of the second half, hitting one for 46 yards. He had another beauty kick on a safety kick, when he hit it high and gave the coverage unit enough time to bring down Detroit down on its own 30-yard line. But his best of the game was his last, when the Vikings really needed it. After taking a 22-19 lead, the Vikings needed to run the clock and brought it down to the two-minute warning on three straight running plays. When they were forced to punt, Bennett hit an outstanding 51-yarder to the corner, and Ralph Brown nearly nailed returner Eddie Drummond on the first shot. He gained only 1 yard on the return — far better than his game-opening 92-yard kickoff return for a touchdown.
On the next play, Antoine Winfield effectively ended the game with his third interception of the season, a career high for him.
LIKE A PUNT
The fans may not have liked quarterback Daunte Culpepper's decision on his only interception of the first half with 1:32 remaining, but a bomb near the goal line on third down was better than most of Bennett punts would have done. After a 7-yard return, Brock Marion was brought down on the 11-yard line. After the defense converted its first three-and-out, the Vikings had another chance, getting the ball at midfield with 33 seconds to go. They couldn't do anything with the ball, but that interception may have averted another big return from Drummond.
THAT'S A KICK
The Vikings' other aged kicker, Morten Andersen has three field goals from 42 yards this season, but those are his longest of the year. He has missed from 44 and 46 yards.
Yet on Sunday, Detroit didn't hesitate to use Jason Hanson for a 48-yard attempt in the first half, and for good reason. Hanson not only made the kick, but he had plenty of distance to spare as the ball hit the netting with good velocity.
After Drummond's opening 92-yard return for a touchdown, the Vikings pooched their next punt because they were "scared," according to Tice. After that, however, he said he just challenged his coverage units to make plays on Drummond, and they did.
THE PLAYS THAT NEVER HAPPENED
Detroit was given two timeouts in the second half with the play clock at one second, and both of them were nearly defensive touchdowns.
In the middle of the third quarter, the Lions were scrambling to get a confused play off before the play clock ran down as the Vikings were making their comeback — the drive after the Vikings had pulled to within 19-15. The ball was snapped and Harrington threw an interception to E.J. Henderson, who had a clear path to the end zone. However, with the whistles blowing, the Lions had called a timeout.
It happened again late in the fourth quarter on the drive after the Vikings took a 22-19 lead. Once again, Detroit was scrambling to get a play off. With Harrington vehemently signaling for the snap, center Dominic Raiola didn't see him. Harrington turned to the officials and called for the timeout with one second left on the play clock as Raiola snapped the ball. The ball hit Harrington and Kenechi Udeze ran it into the end zone. Again, the whistles had blown and Detroit was given the timeout.
Neither of these plays appeared to be blown calls by the officials, but if this is a game of inches, it is also a game of seconds.
THE KICK THAT NEVER HAPPENED
With seven minutes to go and the Vikings trailing 19-15, they needed a touchdown to take the lead. When Culpepper threw incomplete on third-and-2 from the 5-yard line, Marcus Robinson was called for offensive pass interference. The Vikings offense stayed in the huddle, making it look like they were going to go for the 2-yard first down if Detroit declined the penalty. The Lions elected to take the 10-yard penalty on third down and the Vikings converted third-and-12 with a 14-yard pass to Moe Williams. One play later, Williams had a 1-yard touchdown and the Vikings had their winning 22-19 lead.
However, after the game, Tice admitted that he would have kicked the field goal and pulled within one point. Luckily, they didn't need to accept that outcome.
Earlier in the game, in the second quarter, Tice did go for it on fourth-and-1 from the 8-yard line. The pass fell incomplete when receiver Kelly Campbell read the defense one way and Culpepper threw it the other way.
Right tackle Nat Dorsey left the game with a right shoulder sprain. Adam Goldberg replaced Dorsey early in the third quarter. After giving up a safety on his second play in the game, Goldberg settled down and played well, according to head coach Mike Tice.
The Vikings deactivated Shaun Hill (emergency QB), RB Mewelde Moore, CB Derek Ross, LB Raonall Smith, G Adam Haayer, WR Randy Moss, TE Richard Owens and DE Darrion Scott.
The Lions deactivated Rick Mirer (emergency QB), WR S. Vines, RB Artose Pinner, CB Chris Cash, T Victor Rogers, T Kelly Butler, WR Az-Zahir Hakim and LB Boss Bailey.
Game 10: Highlights, Lowlights And Notes
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